Monday 24 July 2017

'No pressure from Brians' - Somers

Former NTMA chief executive points finger at senior Finance mandarins

Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

THE former chief executive of the NTMA, Dr Michael Somers, has revealed how he came under pressure from officials at a "high level" in the Department of Finance to put more money into the Irish banking system in the final months of 2007.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, Dr Somers dismissed the suggestion that he had come under political pressure to step in to help the banks -- and specifically Anglo Irish Bank -- and stated in no uncertain terms that too much blame had been put on the 'two Brians' (Cowen and Lenihan) for the their roles in the banking crisis.

"They were thrown in at the deep end and I'm not quite sure that there was sufficient expertise available to them in what is possibly the worst financial crisis this country has ever faced," said Dr Somers.

"They (Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan) think I'm out to get them. I'm not. I think, in fairness to the two of them, they did put in an awful lot of effort in it and it wasn't easy."

Referring to a letter marked 'strictly confidential' which the then-Finance Minister Brian Cowen had written to him in December 2007, in which Mr Cowen requested his "views" on the role the NTMA could play in helping to maintain financial stability, Dr Somers revealed how this had been preceded by several months of pressure from senior officials in the Department of Finance.

It was this official pressure, and not Mr Cowen's letter that had prompted him to seek legal advice on the NTMA's position when it came to taking a risk with the Irish banking system.

Dr Somers said that he wanted to be clear that the agency was complying with its legal obligations before risking monies that were meant to "keep the State on the road".

"There was a lot of pressure coming on from officials. It had been coming over the previous few months to assist the banking system, to put money with these guys.

"My attitude was that the monies I raised were to keep the State on the road. It wasn't to bail out the banks, which weren't my legal responsibility. So I wanted to make sure that whatever I did, I did it according to the laws of the land.

"As I say, the money I borrowed was to fund the State, it wasn't to bail out the banks.

"The legal advice I got was that I should not take any risk as I was not entitled to take any risk. But the Minister for Finance, he was in a different position. He could take into account wider issues.

"If I had a direction from him to put it in the banks then I had to follow that direction. The legal advice I had was that I required the written direction of the minister."

Asked who exactly had brought pressure to bear on him, Dr Somers said: "Well, it would have been from the Department of Finance. And by the way, it was subtle enough pressure because you won't find it in writing. My attitude was, 'I'll put no money out [with Irish banks] unless I get a written direction from the Minister for Finance.'"

Asked from what level in the Department of Finance the pressure had come, Dr Somers said simply: "A high level."

Sunday Independent

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